Lot 228
  • 228

Georges Rouault

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Georges Rouault
  • Le Pierrot sage
  • Signed G Rouault (center right); titled Pierrot sage (on the stretcher)
  • Oil on paper mounted on canvas
  • 29 1/2 by 22 in.
  • 74.9 by 55.9 cm


Galerie Louis Carré, Paris
Rita K. Hillman, New York (acquired from the above in November 1949 and sold by the estate: Christie's, New York, November 5, 2008, lot 17)
Acquired at the above sale


Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., 1949
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Georges Rouault, 1952, no. 7, illustrated in the catalogue
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts & The Hague, Municipal Museum, Georges Rouault, Rétrospective, 1952, no. 51, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Cleveland Museum of Art & Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rouault, retrospective exhibition, 1953, n.n.
New York University, The Grey Art Gallery, Georges Rouault, 1981, n.n.


Cahiers d'Art, 1940-1944, nos. 15-19, illustrated p. 152
Lionello Venturi, Georges Rouault, Paris, 1948, illustrated pl. 170
H.W. Janson & Dora J. Janson, The Story of Painting for Young People, New York, 1952, no. 123, illustrated in color p. 147
"Retrospective Exhibition: Rouault," in Los Angeles County Museum Bulletin of the Art Division, Summer 1953, vol. 5, no. 3, p. 31
Eleanor C. Munro, Golden Encyclopedia of Art, New York, 1961, illustrated in color p. 251
Pierre Courthion, Georges Rouault, New York, 1962, p. 469, no. 442, illustrated p. 445
Bernard Dorival & Isabelle Rouault, Rouault, L'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Monte-Carlo, 1988, no. 2229, illustrated p. 212
Emily Braun, Manet to Matisse, The Hillman Family Collection, Seattle & London, 1994, no. 62, illustrated in color p. 165


This work is very typical of the artist, and is painted on a piece of canvas with paper tape adhered around the edges prior to painting. The paint layer is stable, the texture is unharmed and the work should be hung as is. Under ultraviolet light, there is a small spot of restoration beneath the signature on the right side. Around the extreme edges, there are a couple of tiny spots here and there, but even these are very minimal. In the cheek of the figure, there are two tiny spots and one crack that have been restored. There are three other small dots of retouching beneath the nose in the dark color. Elsewhere, despite the fact that the original paint does read quite strongly, there are no retouches. The work can be considered to be in excellent and very original condition. The above condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1943, Le Pierrot sage originates from one of Rouault's most expressive and beloved series. His interest in the world of the circus found its greatest outlet in this important period when Ambroise Vollard had commissioned him to make etchings and woodcuts for the book Cirque de l'étoile filante, published in 1938. These depictions were based on his own childhood memories of the circus, as he remembered them, "Acrobats and horsewomen, sparkling or passive clowns, tightrope walkers and freaks, and my friends, color and harmony, since my earliest childhood I have been in love with you" (quoted in Bernard Dorival & Isabelle Rouault, op. cit., p. 153). Rouault combats the potential frivolity of the subject with a Cloisonnist style in which the figures and objects are delineated with black outlines. Evoking the imagery of stained glass imbues the subject with a more profound and spiritual depth. Unlike other artists who employed Cloisonnist techniques, however, Rouault employs boundless expressionistic brushstrokes that deconstruct forms and bring his subject to the edge of abstraction.

Rouault was particularly drawn to the clowns and their expressive potential as subjects for portraiture. These nomadic entertainers represented freedom and naiveté, and were for Rouault a release from his focus on the darker images of life. His series of clown portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy that is unique both within his oeuvre and the spectrum of modern art.  Lionello Venturi writes, "When he paints clowns, however, the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable... colors grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work" (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).